I’m teaching a course on critical thinking at the moment so I’m very aware that stereotyping is “hard wired” into our brains. It’s part of our cognitive process. We often don’t meet someone as a completely new person – we unconsciously use our expectations and perceptions (our stereotypes) to make some initial observations. Stereotyping can also result from not being informed or not taking the time to “research the new data.” It’s when this lack of understanding begins to dictate behaviors and attitudes that it creates issues or even missed opportunities. Take for instance two articles from AdAge regarding misconceptions about the Hispanic market. One article demonstrates how some organizations still don’t understand how to reach a “new majority.” The other discusses the affluence of Hispanics.
The reality is that stereotypes (including cultural misunderstandings) can hit an organization’s bottom line. These ‘attitudinal barriers’ cannot only hinder the ability of organizations to reach certain markets, but it also makes it difficult for employers to recruit and retain a diverse workforce. These misconceptions might also become systemic barriers when the lack of understanding is incorporated into organizational policies and practices that can negatively impact certain cultural groups. Because cultural diversity is now a reality in the United States, especially in the workforce, it’s important for organizational leaders, educators, trainers, and everyone to gain a better understanding of and sensitivity to stereotypes. We all have much to gain from helping bridge the cultural divide.